being a student, being a teacher, building community, new year, student choice, student voice

Getting to Know Our Students Survey

Every year, I do several surveys at the beginning of the year, I don’t think I am the only one.  As we try to get to know these kids that have come into our lives, I think it is so important to gather as much information as they are willing to tell us in order for us to be better teachers for them.  But I also think about how hard it can be to answer questions those first few days of school when you don’t really know what your answers will be used for, when you are not quite sure who this person is who is asking you these questions, when you are perhaps not even sure what the questions mean.

So this year, I am changing my approach a little bit.  The questions have been changed to be more of a progression of trust, not because I am under any impression that from Tuesday to Friday the students will trust me, but because I want to honor the relationships we are building and the fact that they take time.  Students will be asked to answer a few questions every day, but can also choose to speak to me about these things.  They are focused more specifically on what the child needs from me potentially to be successful and not so much on academics.  Students will do a separate survey every day, while not ideal, it will allow me to see their answers as the week progresses and then create one answer froup per student at the end of the week.

Along with these questions, I will also give my reading and writing surveys during that first week.  Those will be on paper as I place them in my conferring binder alongside the notes I take during our conversations.

Before the children have shown up, we will also have asked those at home about them.  We want to reach out to parents and caregivers as experts on their children and honor the knowledge they have through a home survey.  It is sent electronically before school starts and I respond to each person that takes it with follow up questions, those who do not have access to email or choose not to take it online are handed a paper version once school starts.

While the first-week surveys are not done, I am sharing here in order to receive feedback.  What have I missed?  What have I misworded?  What would you add or remove?  You are more than welcome to make a copy and make it fit your students, just please give credit.  To see the surveys, please see here:

Tuesday – Go here

Wednesday – Go here

Thursday – Go here

Friday – Go here

Thank you to those who have already helped me make it better, here are all of the questions together.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being me, new year

A Word to End the Year

Image from I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

The house is clean, my exercise goal met, lagkagen stands at the ready – Happy birthday, sweet Theadora – and as 2018 runs slowly out, I think of the year to come. A year where I will turn 39. A year where Augustine will enter kindergarten. Where we will travel as far away as Taiwan to teach and learn. Where perhaps another book will be written. A year that beckons for a word to describe it. And so like in the past, I choose a word to help me focus as the year opens up and daily life returns.


More love, even when it is snuck in small moments and through small gestures.

More relaxation. Augi already asks me if we will go to the pool every day this summer.

More moments to sit quietly.

More moments to feel good.

More “I love you’s” and ” I like you’s.”

More thank you’s.

More laughs.

More books.

More sleep.

More walks.

And even more vegetables.

More opportunities to say yes to and if no is said it is because it stood in the way of another more.

But also knowing that more does not mean all. That more does not mean unlimited. That more does not mean sacrificing my family to be more for others. But the type of more that comes with paying attention. With care. With a positive outlook that allows us to look back and realize that we already have so much and that what we really need to do is to realize it.

To give more when it matters. To know when to say no, more. To know when others should have the chance to be more, to be an ally more.

More for the good of others.

And so I wish you more, to quote the incredible Amy Krouse Rosenthal. More of what you need, not what you don’t.

Thank you for giving me more.

being a teacher, new year

At the End of the First Week

There is nothing like the first week of school tired, it seems.  Well, perhaps it’s only contender is the first week with a new baby tired.  We drag ourselves home, hoping that dinner has somehow magically arrived, that our house is not a mess, that our own kids are doing well because honestly, all we can think of is when we will get to go to bed.

While I love the first week of school, I always seem to forget how exhausting it is.  How the excitement quickly morphs into an overwhelming sense of “there is so much to do…” How the only kids we can compare these new kids to are the ones we just had, and those kids had it all figured out…

So as I drove home yesterday, overwhelmed by this long list of what I needed to do this weekend in order to simply teach my 90 minutes on Monday, feeling like maybe I was not that great of a teacher after all, I remembered a few truths shared by others, experienced by me, every single year…

They don’t know us yet.

They don’t know our routines even if we have spent all week teaching them.

They don’t know our expectations and so they are trying to figure that out and sometimes we are not as crystal clear as we think we are.

They are just as overwhelmed at times as we are.  Starting school is a whole lot of new and for some, it is a whole lot of negative.  We might not see that yet, but that doesn’t mean the emotions aren’t there.

It’s okay to slow down.  Your best-laid plans were based on fictitious children and now that the real children are here, our job is to make our plans fit the kids, not the other way around.

You are not a bad teacher if you haven’t reached every kid yet.  If you are still forgetting names even though you just knew them.  If you thought the lesson would be amazing when you planned it and it turned out to be mediocre instead.  You are not a bad teacher even if you feel like one.

So last night, as my kids played and got their boundless energy out (where do they get it from?), I did a simple thing; sent notes of appreciation home.  As I looked at my class lists, I remembered once again all of the great moments we did have in class, all of the kind behaviors, the kids who tried, the kids who smiled, the kids who didn’t think my crazy ideas were totally stupid.

The times when it did click.  When it did work, rather than the times where I had to repeat, reteach, restate.

As I sent each note home, the excitement that had been hidden by exhaustion came back; the promise of an amazing year, the hopes that I have so carefully stoked all summer.  These kids are awesome, we are the lucky ones who get to teach them.

Perhaps, like me,  you need to be reminded as well?

I cannot wait for Monday.


being a teacher, new year

We Should Teach

White, Fuchsia,  Free Image

I asked, “If you were to create a genuine bill of promises for each child you will teach this year, what would it include?”

And while the responses were beautiful, they shone of promise, of high hopes for every child, of a community for all, not just those that fit what we have decided school should be like, I cannot help but wonder what happens to those promises when the day gets hard?

What happens when a child pushes our buttons?

When a child refuses to sit down, sit still, be quiet?  When they refuse to fit into the box we have created?

Because in that moment how we act says more about the classroom community we are building than any dream or promise we may have made.

The first time a child pushes our limits tells us more about how we define success than what we may have written down in our idea books.

So we should teach the way we would want our own children to be treated; with dignity, with respect, and with love – not just in words, but in action.

We should teach as if we are the determination between that child’s success and that child’s failure because sometimes we are.

We should teach as we would have wanted to have been taught when we were young.

And when a child inevitably doesn’t like us whether it is for a moment, a day, or a year, we don’t blame the child, jump to anger and punishment, but instead step back and try to see what they are really telling us.  What their actions are really pointing to.  Recognize how we are a part of the situation and the system that is causing this child’s pain.  And we should ask ourselves; what kind of future do we want? One filled with success only for those who fit into the boxes of school or success for all, even if they blast the boxes?

So this year we should teach with urgency, not just the curriculum, but the love, and realize that we truly hold the destiny of our nation in our hands every day.

But more importantly than that, we teach the children, and the children need us to see them for everything they are; wondrous, challenging, and deserving of our love, even on the tough days.

That’s my promise for the year.


being a teacher, Literacy, new year, Reading

Our ELA Curriculum Map for 7th Grade 90 Minute Block

As some of you may know, we are moving from a 45-minute block of ELA time to a 90-minute block.  I cannot tell you how excited I am for this to happen.  To actually have more time to dig in, to have fewer students so I can know them better, to be able to pull small groups more often and really support student growth – yes, please!  But with this change comes a lot of decisions.  We want to make sure students are engaged and challenged well within the 90 minutes.  We don’t want it to drag on, we don’t want it to be lecture.  So as the year starts to come closer, the ideas and aspirations we have had are starting to take shape and I thought it would be nice to share them here, in case others need some inspiration.

Last year we decided what we believe when it comes to our literacy work together and this is what grounds our decisions.  While the chart below is just the overarching theme, our original document discusses things much more in depth, such as the need for equitable practices and for creating opportunities for students as changemakers.

The overarching beliefs we function in are:

If middle school learners need… Then we will commit to…
Empowerment Giving them choice
Read/write every day Give them time
To have a voice Discussion/authorship/ownership
Developing/understanding their identity Reflection/guidance/exposure/structure
See connections to themselves and others Incorporate global/local topics and connect to other classes
Adult role models

Peer role models

Read/write/think/discuss with and in front of students

  • Opportunities for student learn with and from each other.
  • Teachers model/share their love of reading/writing in their own life.
  • Teacher is part of the classroom reading/writing community
  • Exposure to mentor texts
Visible/continuous growth Mini-lessons, explicit/targeted instruction etc., exposure to many genres and formats (balanced literacy), and goal setting.
Need personalized learning communities Small group instruction and conferring

My tentative schedule for our 90 minutes together looks like this:

  • 10 min = independent reading

  • 2-3 min = book talks

  • 15 min = mini-lesson (can be read aloud)

  • 20-25 min = work time (reading practice, conferring, small groups etc)

  • BELL BREAK – 3 minutes
  • 10 min = Grammar/mentor text work/free write

  • 15 min = mini lesson focused on writing or speaking

  • 20 min = work time (writing practice, conferring, small groups etc)

  • 5-10 min = read aloud/picture book read aloud/share/closing

Yesterday, I had the chance to sit down with colleagues and spend some time tentatively mapping out our literacy year.  Inspired by the maps in 180 Days by Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher, we thought providing ourselves with an overview of the year meant we would have a better feel for what to plan for.

This map is intended for 45-minute readers workshop followed by a 45-minute writers workshop.  We wanted to make sure that students had two different times to read within the 45 minutes, one chunk of time that was focused on reading for pleasure without any extra “work” attached to it, and one chunk of time where they would be working more on the skills of reading, most often within their own self-chosen texts, but sometimes in a text chosen by us.

We also wanted to make sure that students have time for meaningful embedded grammar instruction, as well as time to free write.



We are a standards-based district and so we have 9 separate ELA standards.  These are not assessed every quarter but are instead assessed at least twice throughout the year so that students can see their own growth.  Here are the standards we have 5327283641122816.png

The students have not started yet, so all of this is aspirational.  I will keep updating it as the year progresses but thought I would share.

There have been a few books that have really shaped my thinking for the upcoming year.  They are

Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School by [Shalaby, Carla]

Troublemakers by Carla Shalaby

180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle

A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts

Being the Change by Sara K. Ahmed

Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle

Image result for mechanically inclined

Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson

Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst

Passionate Readers by myself – weird to say your own book but this book holds my reading beliefs and also my ideas for how to reach our goals.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

Book Love by Penny Kittle

The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell and Anne Atwell Merkel

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, new year

Our Welcome Poster

Last year, I took a quote from a blog post I wrote and made it into a poster.  The quote was simple but a powerful reminder to anyone who walked into our room about the worth of the very kids that showed.  A powerful reminder to me on days where I felt like I was not enough.  A powerful reminder to kids when they felt that perhaps school was not a place for them.  The poster I made was small but hung proudly outside of our room all year.

This year, I needed a bigger poster.  Same message, but larger.  Something that would be harder to miss.  So my husband, who is my partner in everything, made me one.  I shared it on Instagram and Twitter and now others would like to use it.  So here you are

Feel free to use but please give credit.  And then believe it, every day, every kid, even when it is a hard day.  That would be the best gift of all.

Here is the link to the file, I just ordered a poster print through Walgreens.  If you use it, let me know, I would love to see it out in the wild.